One of the great surprises of this year’s FrightFest was this fantastique tale of an impossible house beyond a house.
One of the highlights at this year’s Horror Channel FrightFest was not a theatrical film but a three-part mini-series made for the French/German TV channel Arte and presented by the Duke Mitchell Film Club. The evocative opening credits of Beyond the Walls, accompanied by Agnes Obel’s haunting, melancholy ‘The Curse’, immediately set the tone and invite us to enter the chiaroscuro world of the series. Speech therapist Lisa (Veerle Baetens) lives a deliberately isolated and minimal life in a barely furnished flat, avoiding close relationships. Unexpectedly, she inherits a neighbour’s house across the road. She moves her few possessions into her new home, but is soon faced with the secrets hidden behind its walls.
The Rorschach wallpaper makes it clear early on that we are invited to enter a maze of the mind and that the impossible architecture of the house, with its disappearing entrances and internal forest, is to be taken as a mental space. The house itself stands quaintly decrepit in the middle of the bustling modern city, poignantly out of place and ominously gloomy. Unfolding like a dream, the exploration of her new home forces Lisa to confront a past that she had buried, but also allows her to form a new bond beyond the boundaries of time. The Borgesian circular temporality of the story fits perfectly with the paradoxical space of the house to create a vertiginous plunge into the richly furnished hollows of the mind and the different shades of loss and longing.
Veerle Baetens is a convincingly self-imprisoned heroine, forced to come out of her shell when faced with the perils of a space inhabited by the ‘Others’, who threaten its occupants with a mysterious and terrifying fate. Flawed and confused, but also resourceful and brave, she has to distinguish friend from foe as she looks for the door that leads out of the labyrinthine nightmare. That nightmare is eventually given a face, full of immense sadness and menacing, hardened beauty, ambiguous and unsettling, as everything else in the house. An intelligently crafted fantastique tale, Beyond the Walls conjures up an oppressive, densely atmospheric world bathed in muted, muddy colours, dimly lit by flickering candles and fragile oil lamps, which lingers long in the mind.